Council President Tony Young and Councilman Carl DeMaio appeared together Wednesday to highlight educational disparities between the city’s eight council districts.
Young and DeMaio called for a September meeting to develop an action plan for addressing the issue.
“We’re shattering through the misconception that the city should have nothing to do with our schools,” DeMaio said. “Great cities require great schools.”
The councilmen cited a study prepared by USD’s Center for Education Policy and Law (CEPAL) that broke down educational outcomes and opportunities within the city’s eight council districts.
The report found that students face wide discrepancies based on where they live in their access to quality schools, and their chances of attending a University of California or California State University, and that those discrepancies also broke down on socioeconomic lines, according to CEPAL Director Scott Himelstein.
Young and DeMaio’s plan would bring SDUSD stakeholders to improve the city’s public education system.
The meeting would include representatives from the business community, officials with city recreation centers and libraries, and elected officials, among others.
One possible improvement specified by Young was pushing for joint-use agreements for facilities and resources that could assist the cash-strapped public school system.
In his mayoral campaign, DeMaio has called for similar agreements with city departments and philanthropy groups to increase after-school involvement.
Though 30 percent of schools in the district are performing below state standards, the fact that 75 percent of schools in the city’s eighth district are below that threshold should be enough to generate a response from concerned parties, according to DeMaio.
In district four, Young’s district and site of the Wednesday press conference, only 26 percent of students reach proficiency in high school-level science, and only 37 percent of students have UC or CSU eligibility, compared to 68 percent in the first district.
“No students should be limited by their ZIP code,” DeMaio said.
He went on to suggest establishing report cards for each school that would assess performance not in traditional areas like academic achievement, but for drop-out rates, bullying and classroom environments.
“If we start issuing these report cards for every school individually, we’ll have a bunch of parents and neighbors that will hold us accountable for doing the things we need to do.”
Many of DeMaio’s policy proposals in his bid for mayor have pushed the importance of measuring performance by city departments and individual employees.
He’s called for merit-based pay for city workers and department budgeting based on performance.
“What gets measured gets done,” he said.
Young said they weren’t holding the event to blame people or point fingers, but to figure out how to do what’s right for the public school system.
“I’ve met with Board President (John Lee) Evans and other members of the school board, and they appreciate the fact that people are concerned by this, and that they’re chipping in with opinions and hopefully at some time resources,” he said. “If anyone is pointing a finger, it should be at themselves.”
He added that the city’s business community has an obvious incentive to improve the quality of education for its future work force, and said there would definitely be area business representatives at the September meeting.
Throughout the mayoral campaign, DeMaio has opted against releasing a full education platform. In debates he's said the city could best assist the financially troubled SDUSD through leading by example, both in fiscal responsibility and by rewarding performance.
District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis made reforming the school district a central tenant of her candidacy, and Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher released an education plan focused on bridging the so-called digital divide.
Congressman Bob Filner, DeMaio's opponent in the general election, previously served on the SDUSD board, experience he touts in his mayoral campaign.
For DeMaio, the meeting with the Democratic council president, which he described as an attempt to find bipartisan solutions, was the latest of his attempts to court the moderate, undecided voters that didn’t vote for him or Filner, a Democrat.
The two candidates finished in a virtual tie in the June primary and represented the ideological poles of the four candidates on the ballot. Now, both have made moves to the political middle, with Filner hiring longtime Republican campaign manager Tom Sheppard, and DeMaio bringing in a past chairman of the San Diego Democratic Party.
Young has yet to endorse a candidate in the mayoral election. Leading to the June primary, he endorsed Fletcher’s education plan, but not the candidate himself.
Now, he’s sided with another education-focused policy, this time with DeMaio, but still hasn’t handed out an official endorsement.
Council president since 2009, Young represents a heavily minority district that not only overlaps with Filner’s congressional district, but also in the primary voted overwhelmingly in favor of the former Civil Rights activist.